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Worldwide Catholic population up slightly: surge in Africa, decline in Europe

April 06, 2017

The worldwide Catholic population has increased slightly, with the most impressive growth taking place in Africa, according to the Vatican’s latest statistics.

The Vatican released its annual statistical yearbook on April 6, showing figures for the year 2015, the last year for which full reports are available. Those statistics showed that the world’s Catholic population had grown about 1% from the previous year, reaching 1.27 billion. Catholics accounted for 17% of the world’s entire population.

The statistics show considerable differences in the rates of Catholic population growth (or decline) on different continents. In Africa, the Catholic population has leapt by over 19% since 2010, while in Europe is has declined. The same trend was evident in measures of Catholics as a proportion of the overall population: a dramatic surge in Africa, a decline in Europe. In Asia and the Americas (which are treated as a single continent in Vatican statistics), the Catholic population increased, but the Catholic proportion of the overall population remains essentially unchanged.

The Americas account for nearly half—49%—of all the world’s Catholics. Yet again Africa has seen a major increase: from 15.5% to 17.3% of the world’s Catholics in five years, while Europe has seen a decline, from 23.8% to 22.2%.

The number of Catholic priests has declined slightly from 2010 to 2015, and the number of women religious dropped more sharply, from 721,935 to 670,320. On these scores, too, the African Church weighs against the worldwide trend, showing increased in both categories.

More than half (55%) of the world’s Catholics live in one of ten countries. The world’s top ten countries, ranked in terms of Catholic population, are:

  1. Brazil: 172 million
  2. Mexico: 111
  3. Philippines: 84
  4. USA: 72
  5. Italy: 58
  6. France: 48
  7. Colombia: 45
  8. Spain: 43
  9. Democratic Republic of Congo: 43
  10. Argentina: 40


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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Apr. 06, 2017 12:17 PM ET USA

    These numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. The cited "Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae" emphasizes _baptized_ Catholics. This means that the number of baptisms is equated to the number of Catholics in a given country. From our own experience, we know that only a fraction of those "baptized Catholic" actually practice the faith they are baptized into, and probably even fewer believe in the God that they should have been taught in their CCD classes, especially at the high school level.